Purpose - Aims to investigate the effect of communicating corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives to young consumers in the UK on their fast-food purchasing with reference to McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Design/methodology/approach - Focus groups were conducted to clarify themes and inform a questionnaire on fast-food purchasing behaviours and motives. Attitude statements were subjected to an exploratory factor analysis. Findings - Most respondents (82 per cent) regularly purchased fast food from one of the companies; purchases were mostly impulsive (57 per cent) or routine (26 per cent), suggesting relatively low-level involvement in each case. While there was scepticism regarding the CSR activity being promoted, expectations about socially responsible behaviour by the companies were nevertheless high. Four factors were isolated, together explaining 52 per cent of the variance in fast-food purchasing behaviour. They were brand value, nutritional value, ethical value and food quality. Research limitations/implications - The research was conducted with students, and while these represent a key-target market, any further research should target a more diverse public. Practical implications - There are important implications for global fast-food companies in terms of protecting and developing their brand value; they need to respond to the wider food-related debates in society, in particular, those concerning healthy eating and food ethics. They also need to ensure that their business practices are fully consistent with the values expressed in their CSR initiatives. Originality/value - The special value of the paper lies in its joining together of current perspectives on CSR and consumer value in the UK food industry as it explores both through the perceptions of young consumers of fast food.